1914 BENZ 8/20 TOURING
COACHWORK BY SCHEBERA OF HEILBRONN
Mahogany with black leather interior
Engine: cast-en-bloc four cylinder, 2,090cc, 20hp at 1,900rpm; Gearbox: four speed, shaft drive; Suspension: semi-elliptic leaf springs front and rear; Brakes: mechanical rear. Right hand drive.
While Olds, Ford, Peugeot and Fiat were marketing cheap, mass produced cars in the early 1900's -- cars which were to drive the price of most automobiles below $1000 on both sides of the Atlantic -- the affluent were privy to such costly voitures as the Benz, offering a selection of ten Mannheim-built chassis of varying horsepower and design.
By 1914, when this 8/20 HP chassis was custom bodied by Schebera as an open tourer, the chassis of Benz motorcars were considered among the best in the world. A chassis averaged $3,500, coachwork added another $1,000 to $2,250, bringing the cost of a Benz to $5,000, ten times that of a 1914 Ford.
The 8/20 HP was introduced in 1912 and produced in two versions through 1921, the first with a 1,950cc displacement and the second built from 1914 on, with a swept volume of 2,090cc. Capable of attaining a top speed of 45mph, the 8/20 HP models were considered fast cars for their time.
The coachwork by Schebera featured a body exquisitely constructed of mahogany, rather than of sheet metal or fabric, and a luxurious leather interior with rear bench seat and fold out jump seats. Elaborate canework was applied to the trunk design at the rear of the car, along the upper portion of the body, and throughout the interior, giving the Benz a particularly striking detail. The crowned fenders and general contours of this one-off design were slightly avant-garde for 1914, although the practice of using wood plank coachwork was pioneered by French stylist Jean-Henri Labourdette, and appeared on among others, a 1911 37/90 HP Mercedes chassis, as the famous Skiff body style. Most unusually, the bonnet, radiator, head, side, and driving lamps of the Benz have an ornate finish that beautifully complements the striking Skiff coachwork. These nickel plated items of the car have been carefully hammered or peened to give a wonderful textured finish to the car.
The Benz was first discovered by a collector in a barn in New York state in 1929. It languished for years until enthusiast Charles Hartman purchased and restored the car in the 1960s. In more recent times it has been on display at the Owls Head Museum in Owls Head, Maine. As a 1914 example, the Benz is eligible for both VMCCA and HCCA touring events.